Comet Neowise streaks across the night sky above Saltburn pier on July 13, 2020 in Saltburn By The Sea, England.
Comet Neowise, officially called C/2020 F3, first appeared towards the end of March. It brightened as it reached its closest approach to the Sun, inside the orbit of Mercury late last week. Comet Neowise is one of the few naked-eye comets of the 21st Century and is approximately 3 miles across.
A comet is always named after the person or satellite who discovers it. It was christened Neowise in recognition of the satellite telescope which first found it.
Neowise is around four-and-a-half billion years old and has travelled from beyond Pluto. It’s orbital period is believed to be in the order of 6,800 years so we won’t see Neowise again once it disappears from view.
It will be visible in the northern hemisphere just before sunrise and after sunset. Throughout July, Neowise is moving westwards across the sky. The comet will come closest to Earth on July 23, though it will still be about 64 million miles (103 million km) away.
A comet is made up of ice, gas and rock and when passing close to the Sun, warms and begins to release gases, a process called outgassing. This produces a visible atmosphere or coma, and sometimes also a tail.
These phenomena are due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind acting upon the nucleus of the comet. Comet nuclei range from a few hundred meters to tens of kilometers across and are composed of loose collections of ice, dust, and small rocky particles.
The coma may be up to 15 times Earth’s diameter, while the tail may stretch up to 150 million kilometres. If sufficiently bright, a comet may be seen from Earth without the aid of a telescope. Comets have been observed and recorded since ancient times by many cultures.
Images (c) Ian Forsyth / Getty Images
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